Employees Prefer Female Leaders, Studies Show

By Aliah D. Wright Mar 21, 2014
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​When it comes to executive leaders, people prefer women.

So says a new study of more than 2,000 U.S. adults, who prefer their leaders to be more collaborative—a trait they associate with women, according to Pershing, a global financial business consultancy. What 77 percent of those polled don’t like are what they defined as “traditional” models of leadership, whereby top execs punish employees and give them orders, actions that respondents associated with men.

“It’s clear that women are contributing exciting new approaches to management and leadership,” said Kim Dellarocca, global head of practice management and segment marketing at Pershing, in a media release. “However, the research shows that a gap still exists between the acceptance of management style and the actual preferences in leadership choices.”

Every year since 2007, McKinsey & Company, a global management consulting firm, has published its Women Matter study, which has shown that companies with a “critical mass” of female executives perform better than those without women at the helm.

“We found that one reason for this outperformance,” the authors of the latest report, issued in 2013, wrote, “lies in the leadership behaviors that women leaders tend to exhibit more than their male counterparts.”

In pointing out those behaviors, the authors said that women provide slightly more inspiration, participative decision-making, direction and motivation when they lead. Men, however, rely on more individualistic decision-making, are more controlling and favor corrective action.

Even given the difference in styles and the preference for female leaders, McKinsey reports, women worldwide are still underrepresented in leadership roles in corporations.

The McKinsey report further revealed that although many firms have measures in place to promote women, “few achieve significant impact.”

Why?

“One reason for the shortfall in results is time,” according to the report. “Like all transformational programs, measures to improve gender diversity require time to take effect.”

They also require confidence in their ability to do the job.

While 79 percent of the women in the study aspire to C-suite roles, many were not sure they could do the job. Also, 86 percent of men were confident they would succeed in reaching a senior-management position, but only 69 percent of women felt that way.

Both studies revealed that men still outnumber women in key leadership roles—even though women earn more college degrees than men and often become the primary breadwinner.

“Good role models are the key to solving the gender paradox,” Dellarocca said in a media release. “If exposure to individuals who defy stereotypes helps mitigate biases, then this could be a promising strategy for winning greater acceptance of women in traditionally male leadership roles.”

McKinsey offered these suggestions for firms wanting to promote more women:

  • Flexible work arrangements for everyone.
  • Equal maternity or paternity leave (without penalization for advancement).
  • Leaves of absence for parenting or other reasons.

“In addition, corporations should welcome a broad range of leadership styles to ensure no talent is bypassed,” the report stated.

Aliah D. Wright is a manager/online editor for SHRM Online.

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